South Korea’s population declined for the first time in the country’s history in 2020, highlighting growing demographic challenges in Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
South Korea’s death toll last year was 3% higher than in 2019, while the total number of births fell 10% to an all-time high, according to census results reported by the agency. Yonhap state press.
The data shed light on the challenges facing policymakers in Seoul resulting from a rapidly aging society and one of lowest fertility rates in the developed world.
Most of South Korea’s “baby boomers” – born after the Korean War ended in 1953 – will retire within a decade, according to a study by researchers at Korea University in 2019.
The expected consequences for the nearly 52m country include constraints on health care and Pension systems, reduction of tax revenues, labor shortages and a shortage of blood, as an increased number of older people increases the demand, the researchers said.
A special committee formed by President Moon Jae-in has already launched a series of policies aimed at tackling the low birth rate, focused on financial support for families with young children.
The latest measures, announced last month, include a “congratulations allowance” for pregnant women from Won1m ($ 920).
But critics say these financial sweeteners fail to address more thorny economic issues, including high costs of ownership and education, as well as deeper cultural cracks in South Korean society.
Paul Choi, head of Korea research at CLSA, said the low birth rate could be seen as a “rebellion” against a harsh environment for expectant parents.
“The government should radically reform the public school system to be competitive with private education and increase home ownership through public housing programs like the one in Singapore,” he said.
Hyun-joo Mo, a Korean youth culture researcher at the University of North Carolina, said beyond economic pressures, Korean women had started rejecting cultural expectations that they have to “do it all” – raising children, looking after the household and earning money.
“Women really don’t feel happy in this male-centered family culture,” Ms. Mo said, adding that an increasing number of young women are choosing not to marry, not to have children, or both. .
Goohoon Kwon, a senior economist at Goldman Sachs, noted that “the structural issue” had been on the reform agendas of successive governments for the past two decades and that some policies “would take longer and more time. attention to impose yourself ”.
But the issues are likely to gain prominence in national politics in the years to come, Kwon added.
“I am sure that aging and demographic challenges will be one of the main issues for the campaign platform in the next election,” he said.
Additional reporting by Kang Buseong